Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Book Review: The Age of Spiritual Machines

Expand Messages
  • Nadav Har'El
    Here s my review of Ray Kurzweil s 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines - When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence Availability: Hebrew translation is
    Message 1 of 6 , Sep 7, 2003
    • 0 Attachment
      Here's my review of Ray Kurzweil's 1999 book

      "The Age of Spiritual Machines -
      When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence"

      Availability:
      Hebrew translation is available from Kinneret press, suggested retail
      price of 78 shekels. I bought my copy for 30 shekels in Zomet Sfarim.


      Kurzweil's book tries to predict what our lives would be like in the year 2100
      (yes, one of his predictions is that we'll all still be "alive" in 2100 - for
      the reason I put "alive" in quotes, you'll have to read the book).

      A common theme you see in many science-fiction books and films that try to
      depict life on earth in 2100, or life of advanced aliens, is the striking
      similarity between the way of life of these creatures and our current lives.
      Star-Trek is a good example. Sure, Captain Kirk shoots a laser gun, gets
      teleported and eats food generated by a machine, but in his world humans (or
      other carbon-based life forms) still rule, travel physically in the universe,
      get cured by a human doctor, and so on. More unusual life forms are either
      relegated to one episode, or given bizarre flaws to explain their rarity
      (e.g., Commander Data).

      So, what will earth really look like in 97 years, in 2100? What will it
      look like in just 17 years, in 2020? Kurzweil sets out to predict the answers
      to these questions, and he does so in an enjoyable writing style and using
      his extensive technical knowledge and visionary approach. He will shock most
      readers by his predictions which initially seem outlandish, but on second
      thought suddenly sound very reasonable and very possible - and perhaps even -
      undeniable.

      The basic premise of this very interesting book is what Kurzweil calls "The
      Law of Accelerating Returns". Moore's law, stating (roughly) that the
      computing power of a $1000 computer doubles every 12 months, is an example
      of Kurzweil's more general law. But Moore law only talks about integrated
      circuits made from transistors - this law only became relevant in the 1960s,
      and will most likely stop being relevant sometime in the next decade. But
      Kurzweil demonstrates that the same "law" of computing acceleration has been
      valid ever since 1900 (!): The first computers were mechanical, then came
      computers using electro-mechanical relays, then came vacuum tubes, then
      stand-alone transistors and finally integrated circuits and VLSI; Computing
      continued to accelerate at an almost constant pace throughout all these
      changes in paradigms and technologies, and Kurzweil argues that it will
      continue to do so - even if we need to replace our IC-based computers by
      computers based on massively-parallel neural networks, nanotechnology-
      manufactured computers or even quantum computers.

      One you understand Kurzweil's basic premise and agree that it is plausible
      (he explains it very well and very convincingly), the unavoidable consequences
      are staggering. The most obvious thing that is going to happen if computing
      accelerates in its current pace, is that around 2020, a $1000 computer will
      have the computing power of a human brain. Very quickly afterwards the
      computer "intelligence" will surpass those of humans. In the following decades
      other advances in technology like self-replicating nanotechnology will make
      relying on human labor and thinking not only unnecessary - it will even be
      stupid. Sending a human for exploration missions in outer space in a large
      UFO-like spaceship would be extraordinarily silly, when you could send a
      computer sized like a grain of rice and having the intelligence of a thousand
      humans. By 2100, computer intelligence and the original human intelligence
      that started it all will be completely inseparable, according to Kurzweil.
      I don't want to spoil your fun of reading the book, so I won't reveal here
      more of Kurzweil's predictions.

      Kurzweil's book isn't perfect, of course. It discusses philosophical and
      moral issues very sparingly. It downplays "modes of failure" (like computer
      viruses, renegade nonobots) and the effect of Luddites and underdeveloped
      countries. It is very conservative economically (Bill Gates will remain the
      richest person in 2050, in 2020 there will be many more lawyers than doctors,
      because Intellectual Property will be the most important economic issue).

      All-in-all Kurzweil's book is very thought-provoking and I strongly recommend
      it. Even if most of his predictions never come true, it really shines a
      light on the question of what might happen as computers get stronger and
      stronger, too strong to be used merely as a platform for "cute" GUIs like
      Mac OS/X or MS-Windows :)


      --
      Nadav Har'El | Sunday, Sep 7 2003, 10 Elul 5763
      nyh@... |-----------------------------------------
      Phone: +972-53-245868, ICQ 13349191 |I don't eat snails. I prefer fast food.
      http://nadav.harel.org.il |
    • Orna Agmon
      ... [snipped] ... Computers are indeed getting faster and with more memory, but is this really comparable to the human mind? Ever since the 60 s (at least)
      Message 2 of 6 , Sep 13, 2003
      • 0 Attachment
        On Sun, 7 Sep 2003, Nadav Har'El wrote:

        > Here's my review of Ray Kurzweil's 1999 book
        >
        > "The Age of Spiritual Machines -
        > When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence"
        >
        > Availability:
        > Hebrew translation is available from Kinneret press, suggested retail
        > price of 78 shekels. I bought my copy for 30 shekels in Zomet Sfarim.
        >
        >
        > Kurzweil's book tries to predict what our lives would be like in the year 2100
        > (yes, one of his predictions is that we'll all still be "alive" in 2100 - for
        > the reason I put "alive" in quotes, you'll have to read the book).

        [snipped]

        > accelerates in its current pace, is that around 2020, a $1000 computer will
        > have the computing power of a human brain. Very quickly afterwards the
        > computer "intelligence" will surpass those of humans. In the following decades

        Computers are indeed getting faster and with more memory, but is this
        really comparable to the human mind? Ever since the 60's (at least) they
        have been trying for AI, but I do not think the development in this field
        can be compared to the physical development of computers.

        Does he say anything about how he thinks this will happen?

        Orna.
      • Nadav Har'El
        ... People who plan to read this book very soon might not want to read on, because I ll be spoiling some of your surprises ;) Yes. Kurzweil concedes that
        Message 3 of 6 , Sep 14, 2003
        • 0 Attachment
          On Sat, Sep 13, 2003, Orna Agmon wrote about "Re: [hackers-il] Book Review: The Age of Spiritual Machines":
          > > Here's my review of Ray Kurzweil's 1999 book
          > >
          > > "The Age of Spiritual Machines -
          > > When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence"
          >
          > > accelerates in its current pace, is that around 2020, a $1000 computer will
          > > have the computing power of a human brain. Very quickly afterwards the
          > > computer "intelligence" will surpass those of humans. In the following decades
          >
          > Computers are indeed getting faster and with more memory, but is this
          > really comparable to the human mind? Ever since the 60's (at least) they
          > have been trying for AI, but I do not think the development in this field
          > can be compared to the physical development of computers.
          >
          > Does he say anything about how he thinks this will happen?

          People who plan to read this book very soon might not want to read on, because
          I'll be spoiling some of your surprises ;)

          Yes. Kurzweil concedes that having a computer as strong computationally as
          a human brain doesn't necessarily mean that we'll have the software as good
          as the "software" that "runs" on the human brain.

          His response to this attack is two-pronged:

          First, he claims that together with the improvement of computing power, we're
          going to see improvement in other relvant technologies. One of these
          technologies is scanning human brains using MRI-like technologies with ever-
          increasing resolution (what he calls "bandwidth"). By 2020 Kurzweil predicts
          we could destructively scan the entire structure of a (dead) human brain, and
          by 2050 we will be able to non-destructively scan a live human brain (I'm
          writing this from memory, so perhaps I got the dates wrong). Scanning the
          complete structure of a brain will supposedly allow us to replicate exactly
          the "mind" of a person on a computer, which is one way of making a computer do
          what a human can do. Such scanning will also allow scientists to better
          understand how the brain is built, copying "algorithms" from it (like how to
          do face recognition, how to read, how to understand language, etc.) into
          artificial neural networks on a computer.
          One really interesting observersion Kurzweil makes is that the "algorithms"
          in the human brain are much "smaller" than appear in first glance. He estimates
          the amount of DNA that specifies the human brain to contain only 10 MB of data.
          Yes, something 1/10th the size of Open Office ;) How can 10 MB of code specify
          something like our brain that contains thousands of times more information?
          The "trick", Kurzweil says, is that a fetus brain starts out with a lot of
          random neural connections (this, of course, doesn't need any "data" to specify)
          and appropriate algorithms to build correct connections based on input data
          the baby gets in the very first years of its life. Similarly, we might
          theoretically build a computer that has a few-megabyte-large program and then
          goes on to listen, see and read, like a child normally would, until it built
          the knowledge of an adult human. But how do we write this 10MB program?
          Understanding the human brain might give us some ideas. Evolution has worked
          on it for a lot more years than our human programmers can spare ;)

          Kurzweil's second reponse to your "attack" is that "AI" is a moving target:
          Whenever a computer can do something it couldn't do before, we suddenly say
          this is not "real" intelligence. For example, a computer can now beat the
          world chess champion and it couldn't do so in the 60s. Did we conclude that
          computers have become smarter than humans? No, we concluded that playing chess
          doesn't require intelligence :) Similarly, computers can now read written
          text (OCR), understand words spoken to it ("continuous speech recognition"),
          translate texts (as varying degrees of accuracy), create music and paintings
          of certain complexity, and other stuff they weren't able to do in the 60s.
          Right, computers still don't pass the "Turing Test". But the Turing Test
          basically requires a single computer to have all the faculties of the human
          brain - understanding and producing language, recognizing patterns, memory
          and knowledge of the world, the concept of "self", emotions, sense of humor,
          and so on. Would a computer that knows how to do just one of those things,
          or just a few of them be "intelligent" or not?

          Another thing to remember that in 2020 computers will be (according to
          Kurzweil's predictions) as strong (computationally) as the human brain,
          but in 2030 they will be 1000 stronger. Given such huge margins, it is
          conceivable that even lousily-designed software we put on these computers
          will appear to be as intelligent as a human.

          You might like to read Kurzweil's original arguments, rather than my "broken
          telephone" (how do you call that in English?) version of his arguments.

          --
          Nadav Har'El | Sunday, Sep 14 2003, 17 Elul 5763
          nyh@... |-----------------------------------------
          Phone: +972-53-790466, ICQ 13349191 |The human mind is like a parachute - it
          http://nadav.harel.org.il |functions better when it is open.
        • Orna Agmon
          ... I think, out of all those tasks that a computer needs to be able to do in order to pass the Turing test, the humor part is the most difficult. Humor
          Message 4 of 6 , Nov 7, 2003
          • 0 Attachment
            On Sun, 14 Sep 2003, Nadav Har'El wrote:

            > On Sat, Sep 13, 2003, Orna Agmon wrote about "Re: [hackers-il] Book Review: The Age of Spiritual Machines":
            > > > Here's my review of Ray Kurzweil's 1999 book
            > > >
            > > > "The Age of Spiritual Machines -
            > > > When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence"
            > >
            > > > accelerates in its current pace, is that around 2020, a $1000 computer will
            > > > have the computing power of a human brain. Very quickly afterwards the
            > > > computer "intelligence" will surpass those of humans. In the following decades
            > >
            > > Computers are indeed getting faster and with more memory, but is this
            > > really comparable to the human mind? Ever since the 60's (at least) they
            > > have been trying for AI, but I do not think the development in this field
            > > can be compared to the physical development of computers.
            > >
            > > Does he say anything about how he thinks this will happen?
            >
            > People who plan to read this book very soon might not want to read on, because
            > I'll be spoiling some of your surprises ;)
            >
            > Yes. Kurzweil concedes that having a computer as strong computationally as
            > a human brain doesn't necessarily mean that we'll have the software as good
            > as the "software" that "runs" on the human brain.
            >
            > His response to this attack is two-pronged:
            >
            > First, he claims that together with the improvement of computing power, we're
            > going to see improvement in other relvant technologies. One of these
            > technologies is scanning human brains using MRI-like technologies with ever-
            > increasing resolution (what he calls "bandwidth"). By 2020 Kurzweil predicts
            > we could destructively scan the entire structure of a (dead) human brain, and
            > by 2050 we will be able to non-destructively scan a live human brain (I'm
            > writing this from memory, so perhaps I got the dates wrong). Scanning the
            > complete structure of a brain will supposedly allow us to replicate exactly
            > the "mind" of a person on a computer, which is one way of making a computer do
            > what a human can do. Such scanning will also allow scientists to better
            > understand how the brain is built, copying "algorithms" from it (like how to
            > do face recognition, how to read, how to understand language, etc.) into
            > artificial neural networks on a computer.
            > One really interesting observersion Kurzweil makes is that the "algorithms"
            > in the human brain are much "smaller" than appear in first glance. He estimates
            > the amount of DNA that specifies the human brain to contain only 10 MB of data.
            > Yes, something 1/10th the size of Open Office ;) How can 10 MB of code specify
            > something like our brain that contains thousands of times more information?
            > The "trick", Kurzweil says, is that a fetus brain starts out with a lot of
            > random neural connections (this, of course, doesn't need any "data" to specify)
            > and appropriate algorithms to build correct connections based on input data
            > the baby gets in the very first years of its life. Similarly, we might
            > theoretically build a computer that has a few-megabyte-large program and then
            > goes on to listen, see and read, like a child normally would, until it built
            > the knowledge of an adult human. But how do we write this 10MB program?
            > Understanding the human brain might give us some ideas. Evolution has worked
            > on it for a lot more years than our human programmers can spare ;)
            >
            > Kurzweil's second reponse to your "attack" is that "AI" is a moving target:
            > Whenever a computer can do something it couldn't do before, we suddenly say
            > this is not "real" intelligence. For example, a computer can now beat the
            > world chess champion and it couldn't do so in the 60s. Did we conclude that
            > computers have become smarter than humans? No, we concluded that playing chess
            > doesn't require intelligence :) Similarly, computers can now read written
            > text (OCR), understand words spoken to it ("continuous speech recognition"),
            > translate texts (as varying degrees of accuracy), create music and paintings
            > of certain complexity, and other stuff they weren't able to do in the 60s.
            > Right, computers still don't pass the "Turing Test". But the Turing Test
            > basically requires a single computer to have all the faculties of the human
            > brain - understanding and producing language, recognizing patterns, memory
            > and knowledge of the world, the concept of "self", emotions, sense of humor,
            > and so on. Would a computer that knows how to do just one of those things,
            > or just a few of them be "intelligent" or not?
            >
            > Another thing to remember that in 2020 computers will be (according to
            > Kurzweil's predictions) as strong (computationally) as the human brain,
            > but in 2030 they will be 1000 stronger. Given such huge margins, it is
            > conceivable that even lousily-designed software we put on these computers
            > will appear to be as intelligent as a human.
            >
            > You might like to read Kurzweil's original arguments, rather than my "broken
            > telephone" (how do you call that in English?) version of his arguments.
            >
            >

            I think, out of all those tasks that a computer needs to be able to do in
            order to pass the Turing test, the humor part is the most difficult. Humor
            changes between places and times. I wonder, what defines humor?

            It ranges from sharp tongues (??) such as word games to slapstick, and we
            recognize it all as humor.

            Can anyone draw a plan as to how to teach a computer to laugh? Say we
            define laugh as print "LOL", and define smile as print ":)". How would a
            computer know when to print any of those, and when to operate an Eliza
            program?

            P.S.

            I do actually classify OCR and speach recognition under AI.

            Orna.
          • Muli Ben-Yehuda
            ... There is an excellent science fiction story, where the main question is what makes humans laugh? In order to not give the story away, I ll just mention
            Message 5 of 6 , Nov 8, 2003
            • 0 Attachment
              On Fri, Nov 07, 2003 at 06:29:06PM +0200, Orna Agmon wrote:

              > I think, out of all those tasks that a computer needs to be able to do in
              > order to pass the Turing test, the humor part is the most difficult. Humor
              > changes between places and times. I wonder, what defines humor?

              There is an excellent science fiction story, where the main question
              is what makes humans laugh? In order to not give the story away, I'll
              just mention that it ends with the alien / entity that was looking for
              the answer to the above question laughing, and laughing, and
              laughing... Anyone knows what story I'm thinking about?

              > Can anyone draw a plan as to how to teach a computer to laugh? Say we
              > define laugh as print "LOL", and define smile as print ":)". How would a
              > computer know when to print any of those, and when to operate an Eliza
              > program?

              Judging by IRC or AOL, randomly would do just fine ;-)
              --
              Muli Ben-Yehuda
              http://www.mulix.org | http://mulix.livejournal.com/

              "the nucleus of linux oscillates my world" - gccbot@#offtopic
            • Orna Agmon
              ... I was thinking of a story by Asimov, which involves Multivac, but I don t think it is this one.
              Message 6 of 6 , Nov 8, 2003
              • 0 Attachment
                On Sat, 8 Nov 2003, Muli Ben-Yehuda wrote:

                > On Fri, Nov 07, 2003 at 06:29:06PM +0200, Orna Agmon wrote:
                >
                > > I think, out of all those tasks that a computer needs to be able to do in
                > > order to pass the Turing test, the humor part is the most difficult. Humor
                > > changes between places and times. I wonder, what defines humor?
                >
                > There is an excellent science fiction story, where the main question
                > is what makes humans laugh? In order to not give the story away, I'll
                > just mention that it ends with the alien / entity that was looking for
                > the answer to the above question laughing, and laughing, and
                > laughing... Anyone knows what story I'm thinking about?

                I was thinking of a story by Asimov, which involves Multivac, but I don't
                think it is this one.



                >
                > > Can anyone draw a plan as to how to teach a computer to laugh? Say we
                > > define laugh as print "LOL", and define smile as print ":)". How would a
                > > computer know when to print any of those, and when to operate an Eliza
                > > program?
                >
                > Judging by IRC or AOL, randomly would do just fine ;-)
                >
              Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.